In what Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund vice president Elizabeth Rich called a victory for the food rights movement, a Sauk County jury acquitted dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger on three of four criminal charges for violations of the Wisconsin food and dairy code after a contentious five-day trial.
Hershberger was acquitted on charges of operating a farm store without a retail food establishment permit, operating a dairy farm without a milk producer license and operating a dairy plant facility without a license. He was convicted of violating a hold order that Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) officials had placed on food in his on-farm store during a June 2010 raid; Hershberger removed tape that had been put on store refrigerators. Hershberger leases cows to members of a private buyers club and provides raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense foods to club members at the farm store. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
The jury’s verdict sets a precedent in distinguishing between those producing and selling food to the public and those producing and distributing food through a private contractual arrangement (e.g., agreement with a food buyers club). DATCP had claimed broad regulatory powers over operations like Hershberger’s asserting that it has jurisdiction over any dairy farm producing milk where any of the milk leaves the farm premise. With its powerful dairy lobby, Wisconsin has been one of the most draconian states in limiting raw milk sales and distribution.
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